Reading Biographies with a New Lens #sol17


IMG_8271Reading Biographies with a New Lens

March 15, 2017

The fourth graders are reading biography this month.  What should a competent reader of biography know and do?  As Dorothy Barnhouse writes in Readers Front and Center,  the classroom is the place where we teach students how to read, not what to read.  All understanding about reading seems to stem from noticing and naming.  So what to notice and what to name?


Biographies consist of a classic story arc positioned on a historical significant timeline which defines the person.  Splitting the focus lessons into those components, first story arc understanding, followed by character traits, significance of biography subject, main idea, and details related to the historic context.  Laying a flexible design on our outline, we planned to started with an assisted lesson on applying story elements to the story of Ruby Bridges.  Rethinking text Screen Shot 2017-03-14 at 7.17.17 PMcomplexity as outlined by Barnhouse,  more complex tasks/simpler texts.



A short video about Ruby Bridges Screen Shot 2017-03-14 at 7.36.55 PMprovided an auditory scaffold to the
learning.  Using a Newsela article about Ruby Bridges,  the class investigated the story elements of Ruby Bridges life.  Checking for understanding, the next day featured a review of the first day’s work using the story arc graphic.  Even simple visuals can pack a powerful punch.


Reviewing the elements of the story arc, the students were given a laminated story arc template, a Newsela article about Malala Yousafzai.  Work was structured in teams with IMG_8272completion including  applying elements of the story arc: rising action, climax/turning point, falling action, and resolution to the story.  In the organization of the Newsela articles, a synopsis is included in the beginning of the article with no introduction.  Setting up texts as problems to be solved develops agency and critical thinking in students.  


Criteria for evaluation included students abilities to articulate the story elements in their foursomes and understanding the story structure.  IMG_8274

Thank you, Two Writing Teachers for the March Slice of Life Challenge. Read more slices here.

Thank you to Melissa Quimby, @QuimbysClass,  fourth grade teacher, for continuing to develop curriculum through experimentation with me.

5 thoughts on “Reading Biographies with a New Lens #sol17

  1. We did a lot of work with story arcs during a recent biography unit of study. Your ideas are well thought out. We also cocreated arcs based on read alouds and eventually kids tried the same work for their independent reading.

  2. Love that visual from Barnhouse – always pushes our thinking. There is so much in this post to unpack – we will be thinking about it for some time. We love how you layered experiences for the students and created space for them to make meaning and connect. It also provided lots of opportunities for you to listen in and collect formative data to evaluate and inform. Thanks for sharing the visuals – really helpful.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s